Pets - nature's own mood enhancer?

23:56, Oct 20 2010

Psychologist Fran Vertue has just written about how pets can make people feel secure and loved. It's well worth reading. And it made me think again about how having a pet can shift your thoughts and emotions.

  Having a pet around can make a person feel more secure and loved.
I've nearly always had a cat in my house, for the past 20 years. But I didn't have a dog around until two years ago. And, maybe coincidentally, I think I'm a more cheerful person than I was two years ago.

True, I've asked my partner and he doesn't notice a difference: he points out that I still get stressed and grumpy when rushing  for a bus or plane, and I can still be heard addressing the TV with bad-tempered comments such as "wankers". (In my defence I find this hard to avoid, most nights, and in this interactive age I view it as feedback.)

But for me, from the inside, I feel less bothered, more smiley, more likely to laugh at things that don't matter. I think this would have happened anyway, as I've managed in those two years to rebuild my working day into one that's manageable and productive rather than a constant hassle, through the simple solution of working from home. Plus I'm two years older, past a certain milestone birthday, and with age comes calm wisdom, right?

Still, though, I'm sure that the impact of my dogs on me is to improve my humour and shorten any negative moments that happen. Each dog makes me laugh at least three times a day. Multiplied by two dogs, that's six laughs a day. They're also drop-dead cute, so that's at least six "awww" moments per day, easily outweighing the "ugh" and "ewww" moments. The dogs also need exercise, so that means a good deal more fresh air, movement and collegial conversation (with other dog walkers) than I would have had otherwise.

  Who could stay grouchy with a smiler like Eazy around?
So I can see how the dogs improve my wellbeing. But "secure and loved"? Hmmm, not sure that it applies to me. But evidently it does for a lot of people, especially those on their own or dealing with a big setback in their lives. Has the presence of a pet ever helped you through such a time? Or lifted your mood like a natural anti-depressant or tranquilliser?

I wonder about one more thing. You'd think that a person who feels more secure and loved, or whose mood is generally lifted and made more positive, will become a better or "nicer" person. They'd be less stressed than otherwise, more forgiving or cheerful. So do pets generally lift the quality and likeability of humanity? Or do they just make a person feel better about themselves, not about other people or the rest of the world, leaving them grumps who reserve their best behaviour for Marley or Miss Happy Paws?

Research that one, psychologists.

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